November 12, 2008

those silly lutherans...

In my small town, there are basically five churches: Presbyterian, Nazarene, Catholic, LCMS, and my United Methodist church. Outside of town there is a UCC church and an ELCA church that participate with us.

We have a fairly good relationship among all of the churches and together have a ministerial alliance that distributes funds for gas, food, lodging, etc. for those in need in the community.

I have been amazed to discover that the LCMS pastor in town has been one of my best mentors. There is at times very little that we agree upon, but there is plenty of grace in our relationship =)

This morning we got to talking about the lectionary passage for Sunday the 23rd. Neither of us would be preaching on the text, but we thought we'd discuss it anyways. I have always loved the passage from Matthew 25 on the judgment of the sheep and the goats, because, for me it was a reminder that we are supposed to live the gospel and not just speak it with our mouths. For the most part, we talked about how the works described are like the fruits of good trees, they are the natural growth or response of a person to the faith which is alive within. We could agree on that.

We got into a lively discussion and I was amazed to hear about how difficult it was to preach this text to their congregations. In Lutheran theology, there is a very fine pathway to tread between legalism and antinomianism and there is always the danger that the message will be interpreted in a way that causes you to "fall off the cliff" in either direction.

I got to thinking about the difference between that and Wesleyan theology. And the greatest difference is that we believe that the works described in the passage from Matthew - the feeding of the hungry, and caring for the sick, etc., are in and of themselves means of grace. We don't believe that works earn us God's salvation, but that they can open us to the grace of God poured out into our lives. Particularly in regards to sanctifying grace.

My Lutheran brothers (they were both male) on the other hand recognize more limited means of grace: the word, the "wet" word (baptism), the "eaten" word (communion), and the "shared" word - fellowship, bible study. And so the works described had the danger of negating the power of faith to save us.

Whew. Yet another day in which I'm glad to be a methodist.

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